As I have mentioned before in former blog posts, my husband Jeff was diagnosed with Major Depression and PTSD in June of 2018. He has been fighting hard ever since his diagnosis to manage the illness. It’s been a long and difficult journey for our whole family, but we are very hopeful. He has made a great deal of progress over the last 2 years. A few months ago, Jeff received a new diagnosis. His original diagnosis of Major Depressive Disorder was replaced with a new diagnosis – Bipolar II.
What is Bipolar Disorder?
According to MayoClinic, Bipolar disorder, formerly called manic depression, is a mental health condition that causes extreme mood swings that include emotional highs (mania or hypomania) and lows (depression).
When you become depressed, you may feel sad or hopeless and lose interest or pleasure in most activities. When your mood shifts to mania or hypomania (less extreme than mania), you may feel euphoric, full of energy or unusually irritable. These mood swings can affect sleep, energy, activity, judgment, behavior and the ability to think clearly.
Episodes of mood swings may occur rarely or multiple times a year. While most people will experience some emotional symptoms between episodes, some may not experience any.
Although bipolar disorder is a lifelong condition, you can manage your mood swings and other symptoms by following a treatment plan. In most cases, bipolar disorder is treated with medications and psychological counseling (psychotherapy).
What is the difference between Bipolar I and Bipolar II?
Bipolar I includes having cycles of manic and depressive episodes. Bipolar II includes a combination of depressive episodes and hypomanic episodes, but does not include full-blown mania. It’s important to note that Bipolar II is not a milder form of Bipolar I, but a separate diagnosis.
It is common for people with Bipolar II to experience longer bouts of depression. This is the case for Jeff. Sometimes the hypomanic episodes are not easy to recognize since they often don’t cause the same level of impairment as mania.
It wasn’t until recently that we began to recognize patterns where Jeff had actually been hypomanic in between the depression, which for him looked like being hyper-focused on job or achievement related goals. Jeff is a smart and driven person, so it was hard for us to recognize when his achievement mindset went to a level that was not healthy. Now he is able to recognize when he begins to feel hypomanic, and he and his therapist can work together to help him try to stay balanced in his mindset.
Bipolar disorder is typically diagnosed in a person’s late teens or in early adulthood. The symptoms for Jeff seemed to present in his late 20’s.
Making Progress & Spreading Hope
Proper diagnosis and treatment can help people with bipolar disorder to lead healthy and fulfilling lives. Bipolar Disorder is also treated differently than Major Depression, so his psychiatrist made adjustments to his medications to include the medication that is the first line of defense for Bipolar: lithium.
Over the last few months, Jeff has been feeling much better and has been stable. Jeff has a good psychiatrist and therapist, which has made the biggest difference in his progress. He continues to meet with them (virtually) on a regular basis. We are so grateful that this new diagnosis happened so that his treatment could be improved.
By sharing this, our goal is to reduce the stigma surrounding mental illness and spread awareness. If you or someone you love is experiencing signs of a mental health condition, you are not alone and there is hope.
Here are some additional resources:
I co-facilitate a monthly virtual support group for spouses of someone with a mental health condition through NAMI Keystone PA. The support group sessions are free and completely confidential. If you have interest in joining or learning about other support groups that NAMI has to offer, you can reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more information about Bipolar, check out BPHope.com.
A good friend of mine, Jess Kanotz, has a blog where she shares stories about how her life has been shaped by Bipolar I in hopes of reducing the stigma of mental illness. Check it out here.
Suicide Prevention Lifeline – We can all help prevent suicide. The Lifeline provides 24/7, free and confidential support for people in distress, prevention and crisis resources for you or your loved ones, and best practices for professionals.
NAMI Help Line – The NAMI HelpLine is a free, nationwide peer-support service providing information, resource referrals and support to people living with a mental health conditions, their family members and caregivers, mental health providers and the public. HelpLine staff and volunteers are experienced, well-trained and able to provide guidance.